Nano What?

Nano The writing community is abuzz with tweets and blog posts about National Novel Writing Month (“NaNoWriMo” or simply “Nano”), which pits ambitious authors against the goal of writing 50,000 original words in the month of November. The event makes a big splash in the publishing industry. I’m not sure how many writers are participating this year, but in 2010 there were over 200,000!

I seriously thought about doing Nano this year, but I’m making great progress on the third draft revisions of my book Vaetra Unveiled, and I didn’t want to interrupt that flow for an entire month. I thought that maybe I would do it next year, but now that I have had a few weeks to watch some of my author acquaintances work through Nano, I’ve reached the conclusion that I probably won’t ever do it.

It’s not that the idea of writing 50,000 words in a month is intimidating. I wouldn’t take on the challenge unless I set aside the necessary time to get it done. That would take coordination with my wife, who is my business partner as well as my life partner. However, if I decided I wanted to do it, I’m sure she’d be supportive.

No, the reason I decided that Nano probably would never be for me is simply because I don’t need the benefits that it offers. Those benefits include:

  • Encouragement and support
  • Learning to silencing the internal editor so you can write quickly
  • Establishing a “butt-in-chair” discipline
  • Accountability

Encouragement and Support

Now, who couldn’t use a little encouragement and support? I’ve run across many authors who suffer seriously from confidence issues, and I’m sure they would welcome any kind of support. I think it’s great how authors share their joys and their frustrations with Nano and get friendly encouragement from other writers.

However, I don’t lack encouragement and support. My wife and my sister-in-law are both writers, and they have been very supportive. My family has also been enthusiastic about my writing, as have my closest friends. I feel fortunate and thankful for the confidence they have given me. I’ve also met several new writer friends through Rachael Harrie’s Writers’ Platform-Building Campaign, and those folks have been supportive too.

Silencing the Internal Editor

November is 30 days long. To write 50,000 words, you have to average 1,667 words each day. Assuming you don’t have all day, every day, to do that, you probably aren’t going to have much time to edit as you go. Fortunately, Nano has no requirements regarding the quality of the words you write. In order to meet your word count goals, you’ll probably have to silence your internal editor and power through the writing as fast as you can.

I discovered this past summer that I’m already capable of writing quickly. I gave myself permission to “mark and move on” when I came to a place in the story where I wanted to do additional research or where the characters or plot needed more development. I was consistently able to write between 500 and 1,200 words on my first draft during my hour or so of “writing time” each morning. I’m happy with that pace, so I don’t feel the need to practice writing fast for a month.

Butt-in-Chair Discipline

If you are going to write 50,000 words in a month, you are going to have to dedicate a serious number of hours to your writing. Even if you can average 1,000 words per hour, that’s 50 hours. It doesn’t sound like much, but that’s an entire 10-hour work week out of the month. It gets worse if you can’t average 1,000 words per hour (and better, obviously, if you can do more). What if you already have an 8-hour a day job? With commuting time? The only way you’ll get the job done is if you sit your butt in your writing chair for extended periods whenever you can find the time. Nano helps some authors develop a consistent writing discipline.

I’m happy to say that, so far, I don’t have a problem with getting myself to write every day. I look forward to my writing time, and I guard it rather jealously. Writing is one of my favorite activities, and I’d do more of it if I could. My problem is more likely to be getting my butt out of my chair!


Many writers need some form of public accountability for motivation. When you sign up for Nano, you can post your word counts on the NaNoWriMo site each day and you can even post excerpts of your work. If you achieve the goal of writing 50,000 words, you “Win” Nano and earn bragging rights. Winning isn’t easy; in 2010, less than 20% of the participants did so.

I think accountability has its place. I’ve written to deadlines before, and I’ve written things I really didn’t want to write. Truthfully, my fiction writing has no significant external forces pressuring me to move forward. All my pressures are internal, but I’m good at setting and meeting goals. The only external accountability I have going for me is the little progress counter on my blog that shows where I am the current revision of my work-in-progress. That seems to be enough. I look forward to updating that counter each Friday, and I get more excited about big jumps in word count than little ones. No one may ever look at that progress counter but me, but it’s serving its purpose just by being there.


I do think Nano is a cool idea, and if a day should come where I need the benefits it offers, I’m sure I’ll give it a try, but for now I’m doing just fine. Adding the stress of an aggressive writing deadline through the Thanksgiving holiday is something I (and my family) can live without.


If you are doing NaNoWriMo this year, are you getting something out of it that I didn’t mention? Will you do it again? Are you having fun? Do you think you will “win?” Tell me in the comments!


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  1. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. I like NaNo because I don’t have any deadlines of my own, and challenges like this help me focus. I changed story mid-month because the one I was writing wasn’t working, so I probably won’t finish, but at least I’m back in the habit 🙂

  2. Thanks for telling me about your experience, Sarah. Sorry you had to change stories, but I’ll bet you will be happier working on something that feels right, even if you don’t hit the magic 50K.

    As far as I’m concerned, anything that helps you focus on your writing is a Good Thing!

  3. I lack the discipline and drive to compete in nano. I’m surprised that 200,000 people go and participate. How many get published? Probably one. Eeep.

  4. I know what you mean. I’m not much for competitions myself, although in NaNo, I guess you are really just competing against yourself.

    Good point about how many people who complete NaNo go on to have the work they did published. I’d like to know the answer to that. I would hope it is more than one, but the actual number might still be a depressing figure.

  5. I think you more or less covered all the main reasons for doing NaNo. I actually wrote the book I am getting ready for publication now (Protector) during NaNo 2009. At the time it worked wonders since what I needed then was some support/extra incentive to finish a first draft.

    But now that I know I can do it, seeing as I have already done it once ;), NaNo is just not so useful to me anymore.

  6. Thanks for visiting Vanna. I’m starting to think that more published books were bootstrapped by NaNo than I expected!

    You also answered another question I had, which was whether or not doing NaNo multiple times was worthwhile. Some writers seem to do it repeatedly and others don’t. I guess it partly depends upon if you come away from NaNo with new writing habits that stick, or if you need that yearly refresher.

  7. I definitely think that NaNo is great for seeing if you can pull off writing an entire novel. Once you know you can, any month can be a NaNo month. I like your new profile pic, by the way 😉 it has a very fantasy feel to it.

  8. Thanks for the compliment, Vanna. My latest post (Trading in The Force for Magic) is all about the new profile pic.